William Lane Craig Advises Christians on How to Deal With Their Doubts

This post is my lengthy reply to BitterSweet End’s post, Christian Doubt by William Lane Craig.

Here’s the video with William Lane Craig’s advice to Christians with doubts about their faith:

My thoughts immediately went to this post by imbrocata:

Pre-emptive warfare and Passive-Agressive Theology

Here’s a small section from that post:

With ideas and beliefs, we can also witness instances where minds are inoculated against thoughts or ideas that run counter to the given belief system or philosophy.   Thoughts and ideas that such a person is bound to run into and against which they will need to have some defense by which to resist.

It is my goal to show that Christianity inoculates its followers in just such a way in order to create a thinking-pattern that is immune to unauthorized ideas and thoughts.   I share with Christians a belief that the warfare we wage is not physical in nature but I disagree that it is spiritual; it is ideological and it is mental warfare at its heart.

That’s the sense I got from this response from Craig.  He throws in at the end that they should choose one question and “pursue it into the ground,” but that seems a bit pointless once you’ve just told them that they need to go into it trusting that Christianity is not only true regardless of any evidence, but that it is superior to any other “ism.”

Craig says in the beginning that the Holy Spirit provides a “self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence.”  Later in the video he refers to the “shifting sands of evidence.”  I thought that was a pretty interesting way of describing evidence.  It seemed to me a sneaky way of inoculating Christians against the idea that evidence might actually prove their faith wrong.  That pesky evidence – don’t worry about that!  That feeling in our Christian hearts will triumph in the end!

If the Holy Spirit is the primary way that Christians will know they are part of the only true faith, what are we to make of people from other religions or those who have no religion at all?  Surely they haven’t all just hardened their hearts (which is a common response to why people don’t allow the Christian Holy Spirit into their hearts – because if they’d only do that then they’d know that Christianity is the only religion that really has this god thing figured out.)

Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason says that:

A thing which everybody is required to believe, requires that the proof and evidence of it should be equal to all, and universal.” (Chapter III)

The existence of people of other faiths (and no faith) shows that the Holy Spirit fails in this regard.  If it is of eternal importance that all of humanity believe something, then the evidence needs to be available and obvious to everyone.

And it wouldn’t be a true Christian message without throwing in some good ol’ fear:

There is an enemy of your souls, Satan, who hates you intensely, and who is bent on your destruction, and who will do everything in His power to see that your faith is destroyed.

I really think that Craig is just trying to inoculate believers here by telling them that no matter what questions arise, Christianity is the only correct answer.  I remember having this sense while I was in Christianity.  Doubting was encouraged as long as it led back to Christianity.  What I heard from Craig were four main things:

  1. Trust that feeling in your heart even if it runs contrary to evidence.
  2. Fear Satan!
  3. Inoculate yourself to doubt through spiritual disciplines.
  4. Pursue a doubt here and there, all the while knowing that the Holy Spirit has already told you that the doubt can’t possibly be true, and as long as pursuing that doubt ultimately leads to you remaining a Christian.

[I want to focus on #3 for a bit.  When I originally wrote this post I made it sound as though Craig was purposely trying to blame the person doubting by telling them that if they’d only attend to their spiritual disciplines more then they wouldn’t have those doubts.  In hindsight I think what I should have said is that it could be taken that way by someone truly in the middle of some serious doubts.  I think I am always on the alert for when Christians use fear or blame to keep people from questioning the religion and in this case I crossed the line and implied intent on Craig’s part when that probably wasn’t his meaning.  I still want any doubters to be alert for anyone who tries to tell them that if they’d only do (blank) more then they wouldn’t have those doubts  – so I stand by that warning in general but not how I implied intent on Craig’s part.]

I’m truly curious whether Craig’s response is acceptable to Christians.  I mean he doesn’t even leave open the possibility that following any of your doubts could maybe-even-kinda lead to you realizing Christianity doesn’t have an exclusive hotline to god.

Yes – there will always be questions.  But are you going to follow a path that says to ignore that pesky evidence, live in fear, blame yourself if you have doubts, and don’t even consider leaving our religion?  I have much more respect for a path that says to welcome any and all evidence, to not live in fear, and to change my conclusions if the evidence points in a different direction.

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81 thoughts on “William Lane Craig Advises Christians on How to Deal With Their Doubts

  1. Brenda says:

    “I remember having this sense while I was in Christianity. Doubting was encouraged as long as it led back to Christianity.”

    Brenda, this is so true. I remember when I was doubting my Christianity, my pastors and friends always told me that Doubting was OK, Doubting was fine. But as soon as my doubts led me in directions that they found objectionable, they questioned my motivations and accused me of selfishness and secret sin. I learned that doubt is OK but only as long as it leads me back to the wellspring of Faith. Mr Craig says as much when he suggests that the doubting believer should turn doubt into a research project, and that wrestling with the doubts as an intellectual exercise, while keeping in mind that there is an evil creature named Satan who is bent on our spiritual destruction, will make the the doubters’ Faith actually grow stronger. Doubt is ok, as long as the correct conclusion is already anticipated.

    By the way, I have been spending the morning looking for like-minded blogs and I stumbled across yours. Nice to meet you, Brenda!

  2. “I’m truly curious whether Craig’s response is acceptable to Christians.”

    I think your ‘take’ on this is a little black and white, when reality is more nuanced. In reality, in any given situation, there are generally several principles that we should aim to follow, and sometimes some of them conflict. Open-mindedness to all possibilities is a good principle, but so are loyalty, trust and steadiness.

    An example is marriage or any other close relationship. Suppose we build up respect for our spouse over many years and then we hear they have been unfaithful. Should we immediately hire a private detective to learn the facts? Or should we continue to trust them? I suggest we should continue to trust, though we may be more alert. If further suspicious events occur, then we may start to investigate.

    Even in science, I have read research scientists saying they can’t practically follow the ideal of a totally open mind, but have to follow one hypothesis even when other is starting to look likely, at least for a while.

    I think you have judged christianity as if it was a science (and even then ignored how scientists actually act), when it is more of a relationship of trust. I suggest therefore both an open mind and loyalty are appropriate responses. If one has doubts, one should begin with loyalty, but alert for the possibility of learning something new. If the doubts have substance, then eventually they will win out over trust.

    In my experience, that has occurred many times over aspects of christian faith, and I have changed my views substantially, but it has never occurred over the reality of Jesus, despite my thinking and querying many many times.

    • I can see what you’re saying, but Craig says in the video that the Holy Spirit is a, “self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence.” (italics mine). That seems to be asking for more than just loyalty until some evidence proves that loyalty misplaced. It’s asking for loyalty to have supremacy over any evidence.

      Also, if I had some imformation that my spouse had been unfaithful I wouldn’t assume immediately that the information was true, but I would investigate it in some manner (even if that just meant something as simple as talking to them about it).

    • Not the best comparison with my last comment (re: I might just talk to my spouse) . All I meant is that I would investigate the accusation in some manner (look for some kind of evidence) even though I wouldn’t assume it was true immediately (loyalty).

  3. Pingback: Addition to previous post … « Left Christianity

  4. I actually agree with the core of your comment, Unklee. At the same time, I (and probably Brenda) feel that I did just that. When I first had doubts about Christianity, I didn’t drop it immediately, but only after a lot of investigation. To use your example, if the evidence kept piling up that your spouse was unfaithful, would you continue to believe she wasn’t? I feel that Craig was saying we should ignore the evidence just to hang on to the relationship.

  5. “Craig says in the video that the Holy Spirit is a, “self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence.”

    If God exists, he is capable of doing that, and this would be the strongest evidence of all. Craig indicates both Holy Spirit and evidential reasons to believe, but he is right to say that the Spirit, if experienced in a clear way, must be primary.

    I can only think that both of you either didn’t experience this witness of the Spirit, or it wasn’t clear to you, or you didn’t pay attention to it. This isn’t an insult, because it is the same with me – I believe the Holy Spirit is at work in me, but I don’t experience it in a clear way. That is why I stress evidential reasons, because they are more important for me, but I still recognise that the Spirit’s evidence is more important for other christians.

    “if the evidence kept piling up that your spouse was unfaithful, would you continue to believe she wasn’t?”

    If the evidence mounted up, and there was dwindling evidence on the positive side, eventually I would be forced to mistrust – and the same would be true about God. But of course, the positive evidence for God doesn’t dwindle, but also increases, so the balance remains roughly the same, and I continue to believe.

    • I did experience the Holy Spirit as much as any other Christian (but no offence taken there). I’m pretty sure Nate would say the same thing, but I’ll let him speak for himself.

      I think what Christians describe as the Holy Spirit is an inner conviction that Christianity is true. I think you could have this inner conviction about any belief. As far as other experiences that people attribute to the Holy Spirit, well those can easily have other explanations. I can’t see that someone should take a feeling and raise it to a place above reasoning and evidence.

      Obviously I don’t agree with you that, ‘of course the positive evidence for God doesn’t dwindle,’ but we’ll probably just have to agree to disagree on that one.

  6. “I did experience the Holy Spirit as much as any other Christian …. I think what Christians describe as the Holy Spirit is an inner conviction that Christianity is true.”

    I think these two statements are inconsistent, though I can see from your perspective that they would be consistent. The ‘witness’ of the Spirit is an inner conviction, but:

    (1) An inner conviction is not necessarily the Holy Spirit, and

    (2) the witness of the Spirit is more than that – it may include a personal relationship, answers to prayer, guidance, healing, even visions or supernatural knowledge.

    Obviously, whatever the truth of the matter, you lost your inner conviction whereas (i) many others don’t, and (ii) if it was from the Spirit and you attended properly to it you presumably wouldn’t have lost it. We can only conclude that either (a) there is no Spirit, or (b) you never really believed, or (c) you will one day return to belief, or (d) you didn’t take advantage of the Spirit’s work. You obviously believe (a) whereas I obviously believe one of the other options, with no idea which might be true.

    “I don’t agree with you that, ‘of course the positive evidence for God doesn’t dwindle,’”

    I still believe this remains a matter of what we attend to and focus on, but, as you say ….

    “we’ll probably just have to agree to disagree on that one.”

    We can at least agree on something! : )

    • To address your point #2. Yes – I do realize that the witness of the Holy Spirit usually refers to more than just an inner conviction (although that is the main aspect I addressed.) That’s why I mentioned other experiences that people attribute to the Holy Spirit. All of the experiences are very subjective and once someone doubts the foundations of Christianity it isn’t much of a leap to see such subjective experiences as having natural explanations as opposed to supernatural ones.

  7. Really nice blog, Brenda! I also really enjoy reading through the comments section and seeing some of the “No True Scott” in action. That last argument suggests that one cannot be a true believer and then simply stop believing. This is more meta-argument, I think and along those same lines, it ignores that other possibility or unequivocally dismisses it as false: “You can be a true believer and simply stop believing.”. That seems to be a major sticking point here to me.
    On a slightly different tack, twice in my life, I’ve been confronted with a similar mind-set regarding the authenticity of the Bible. Once by a Jehovah’s Witness and one by a Christian. They both basically said that even if I could demonstrate a clear contradiction in scripture, they would still believe in it’s inherent authority because who is to say that God would not put an ‘apparent’ mistake in the Bible just to test their faith. That floors me every time I think about it and to me, at least, this is the essence of Self-Authentication. It’s bullet-proof precisely because it ignores rationale, empiricism and well, objective truth.

  8. Hey Brenda, I appreciate your response to this post.

    I actually do think we should go deep into the topic and research like Dr. craig said. Because if Christianity is true, then we should be able to find the answers. But if not objective truth will come out.

    To He is SAILING,

    I think many Christians say it’s okay to question your doubt, and that you should raise questions, I don’t think Christians are prepared for the questions. Here is a video, were a pastor encouraged one youth to ask questions on his doubt, but it backfired in the pastors face. Cause he was not ready for all the big tough questions. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3rGev6OZ3w Unfortunately because the pastor couldn’t answer the question. The youth grew up to be a man. And is now an atheist.

    • BibleReader

      Thanks for commenting!

      I’m interested to know what you thought about my criticisms of Craig’s advice. In particular about his comment that, the Holy Spirit provides a “self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence.” What is the point of digging deep into an issue if someone has already decided that the Holy Spirit has told them that the Christian answer absolutely must be the right answer (regardless of any evidence)? Seems like a useless exercise if the outcome is predetermined.

      I’ve seen that video with Penn Jillett before. I love listening to that guy!

      • Well this is a form of Presuppositional apologetics, I’ll be honest – I’m not against that. So I will take the assumption that the bible, scripture, and God are true until proven wrong.

        I don’t think it is a useless exercise if we can get to objective truth. Cause thats why we should research and dig this into the ground. And if the bible is true – there should be a level of sufficient evidence to back it up. That satisfies are Mind, Intellect, and Spirit. {And if its not, then……thats different post topic}

      • So I’m trying to understand here. If someone’s issue is the reliability of the Bible, how do they find objective truth about that if they go into it believing that the Holy Spirit has told them already that Christianity is true and therefore the Bible must be true also?

      • I think you might be taking the assumption that one can’t find objective truth with and thought the holy spirit.

        But if Holy Spirit is real and working -objective truth should be relatively easy to find.

        The issue is that the holy spirit is supposed to guide us into truth. If we can our eye on truth, than the holy spirits job, will be easy, and objective truth should be attainable through faith.

      • BibleReader

        Doesn’t the Holy Spirit put a wall around someone’s questioning? Doesn’t it draw a line which the doubter is not allowed to cross?

        Obviously the Christian Holy Spirit isn’t going to guide someone to reach conclusions that would lead them out of Christianity. I keep picturing any doubt as being a dot in the centre of a circle. The Holy Spirit would guide you to any truth about that doubt … as long as it’s inside that circle (i.e. within Christianity) … but not beyond.

        I guess I’m struggling to see how truth can be objective truth if you put limits on what that truth can be and where it can be found.

      • No I would say traditional teachings and proof texting put a hindrance or wall on questioning.

        Ur right, if there is No Holy Spirit, than one will be guided away from Christianity during their research.

        BUT if there is a Holy Spirit, then I/we should be guided back to Christianity through research

      • I don’t necessarily think that if there is no Holy Spirit that someone would be led away from Christianity. Can’t Christianity’s evidence and arguments stand on their own? Are they not there for people to evaluate even if we take the Holy Spirit out of the equation?

      • I think as a christian, we can’t truly take the idea of taking the Holy Spirit out the question or equation. Cause I don’t the Holy Spirit is necessarily there to be the answer, but to guide us toward the answer. And this is how I see the role of the Holy Spirit in my endeavors.

        But can Christianity stand on it’s own. My Simplistc answer would be yes, And then u would ask How do you know?(There begins our circular reasoning.)

        Me: Cause God created Chrisitianity.
        You: How do you know there is a God?
        Me: Cause the Bible says so.
        You: How do you know the bible can be trusted?
        Me cause it’s the inspired Word of God for Christianity.

    • Thanks for the reply BibleReader. I think the thing with me is that the pastors and ministers that I questioned DID have answers to my questions. But you see, I also had answers to those questions. But when it comes to answering the big questions of life, like where and why there is evil in this world, I have no way of knowing if my answers are correct or not, because it is based on nothing more than my own internal philosophizing. But the ministers that I inquired also used the same method along with their own interpretation of Scripture, and they seemed awful cock sure of themselves. I am not really big on answers. I am very big on methodology. The answer is not that important to me, rather HOW you came to that answer is of paramount importance. And that is what I focused on when I did ask questions.

      • HeisSailing

        Just chiming in on your conversation with BibleReader. I love where you say that, “HOW you came to that answer is of paramount importance.” I think this is a really important point for someone who might be overwhelmed by all the different arguments for and against god/Christianity. If they can keep that in mind as they sift through everything then I think it will help them.

        And where you talked about the ministers being very sure of themselves, I see this as a red flag now if anyone seems very sure about something that they can’t possibly know – when they leave no room for the possibility of being mistaken.

        Thanks for your comment!

      • I think that is somewhat still one of issues I’m dealing with it. I ‘ll ask a question, I’ll get an answer. But I’ve already studied the answer and found it either insufficient or incomplete.

        So I guess I’ll continue in my endeavors until I am both intellectually and spiritually satisfied.

      • I really respect what you’ve been willing to do BibleReader. I don’t want to generalize too much, but I think many Christians only look within their Christian community for feedback about their doubts. I respect that you’ve been willing to look outside that circle to people who have no faith or people who once believed but no longer do. I know struggling with these doubts is not an easy thing.

  9. G’day imbrocata,

    “I also really enjoy reading through the comments section and seeing some of the “No True Scott” in action. That last argument suggests that one cannot be a true believer and then simply stop believing.”

    Before I respond to your comment, I’d like to make sure I understand you. Can you please confirm:

    1. You were referring to my previous post?
    2. Your were suggesting I had used the ‘No True Scotsman. fallacy as an argument?
    3. You were indicating I had assumed that one cannot be a true believer and then simply stop believing?

    Thanks.

  10. “What is the point of digging deep into an issue if someone has already decided that the Holy Spirit has told them that the Christian answer absolutely must be the right answer (regardless of any evidence)?”

    Brenda, I think again you are seeing things in black and white that really are more complex. As I see it, Craig was discussing doubt about the truth of the christian faith. But it is not necessarily true that “an issue” on its own will decide that. It is quite possible to have an inner conviction of the Spirit that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and hence God exists, and still have doubts and questions about some issue such as the Old Testament killings.

    As I said before, there are many, many issues that I have pondered over, questioned, had concerns about, had doubts about, etc – some I have eventually resolved and some I haven’t (yet) – without that stopping me believing the overall evidence points to God & Jesus.

    So there is every point in digging – to get an answer!

    “how do they find objective truth about that if they go into it believing that the Holy Spirit has told them already that Christianity is true and therefore the Bible must be true also?”

    Again, I think you are over-simplifying. Christianity could be true but the Bible not be inerrant – that is what I would guess most christians over the past 2000 years have thought, and that has always been my belief. So even if I never question the truth of christianity, I might still question the truth of some part of the Bible – and I do.

    As you said before, we will not necessarily agree on these things, but perhaps you can understand that there are more nuances in christianity than you are allowing for. Best wishes.

    • UnkleE

      I was laughing that you keep saying that I see things in black and white and that I oversimplify. I’m probably guilty as charged but I would describe it as being clear and as trying to get to the essence of an issue.

      I can understand what you’re saying about not being willing to jump ship in regards to Christianity with every doubt that comes along. I do get that. I would say that about my atheism as well. There would have to be sufficient evidence to make me doubt the foundations of my atheism before I jumped ship entirely. But what I’m hearing from Christians (and from Craig in this video) is that they will never jump ship no matter how high the evidence against their faith piled up. When Craig says that the Holy Spirit provides a “self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence,” he isn’t saying that you should stand firm in your faith until the evidence is sufficient to convince you it’s time to jump ship. He’s saying to never jump ship. That even if all the evidence points in a different direction, then the issue is with the evidence, not with Christianity. He says that if, “the evidence I have available to me should turn against Christianity, I don’t think that that controverts the witness of the Holy Spirit.” He goes on to essentially say that the evidence will ultimately support what the Holy Spirit has told him (no matter how high it seems to be piled up against Christianity at the time). This isn’t a matter of dealing with the odd doubt here or there. It’s saying that even if all evidence pointed in a different direction that the witness of the Holy Spirit should still have supremacy and therefore you must stay within the faith.

  11. For me, what William Lane Craig calls “evidence” I am highly skeptical of. For instance, regarding the resurrection of Jesus, he refers to this incident as a “fact”. I’m sorry, but to me, it’s pure speculation and heresay. It would be practically impossible to prove the events as they supposedly happened. We are talking here of spectacular supernatural events. It’s far more likely this event is the work of highly imaginative minds, desparate to make others believe. .. And believe they do! .. add in some threats of eternal hell and you’re well on your way to a religion.
    I love the Bart Ehrman v Craig debate on this issue, Bart historical view on the resurrection is quite an eye opener.

    • I haven’t watched that yet, but it looks like to be a good debate

      I read the transcript of James white and Bart Ehrman debate, and seemed they just went in circles around each other, and not going deep enough into the topic

  12. Brenda said (way back): “Doesn’t the Holy Spirit put a wall around someone’s questioning? Doesn’t it draw a line which the doubter is not allowed to cross? ….. I guess I’m struggling to see how truth can be objective truth if you put limits on what that truth can be and where it can be found.”

    Some christians take this approach, some do not ( so I’m saying again that you are not recognising the diversity and naunces within christian thinking). For instance, CS Lewis was one of the most influential christians of the 20th century, and a big influence on me. He once wrote that if we saw truth and God diverging, we should follow truth – and we would find that was where God was all along.

    I have always followed that.

    • But again, the idea is that you can follow truth … as long as it leads back to god. There seems to be no advice in the Christian community to follow truth for its own sake regardless of where it takes you.

      • But Brenda, that’s for the simple reason that we believe the truth is found in God, and our daily experience reinforces that truth (generally). Notice that the quote didn’t say as you have said: “the idea is that you can follow truth … as long as it leads back to god”, but that we should follow truth and it will lead you back to God. There’s a big difference!

      • unklee, it speaks volumes that your first sentence used the word “believe” followed by “truth.” If you believe you have the truth, then you’re admitting you might be wrong.
        And take a walk through a St. Jude hospital or any facility where children are battling cancer and tell me that the truth of god is found through daily experiences. Visit a country where children die because they don’t have access to the basics that we have. You seem to be living under the umbrella that YOUR experiences reinforce that truth. And you throw in “generally” to admit that it doesn’t always happen. If you were one of those kids battling cancer, I bet you’d be singing a different tune.
        And if following truth does lead back to god, then why does anyone have to tell people how to deal with doubt? Doubt should lead to questions that lead to answers. Yet when we get no answers (or a bunch of apologist nonsense), is it surprising that people reject the notion that there is a god?

  13. “I was laughing that you keep saying that I see things in black and white and that I oversimplify. I’m probably guilty as charged but I would describe it as being clear and as trying to get to the essence of an issue.”

    : ) Fair enough! Except I think it isn’t clear if it over-simplifies.

    “When Craig says that the Holy Spirit provides a “self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence,”

    Well maybe Craig is saying that, but I think he is saying that there are various types of evidence – and these include both external evidence and internal evidence. And we shouldn’t assume external is somehow better, because sometimes one is best, sometimes another.

    For example, if I have a persistent pain in my stomach and the doctor runs all the tests and says he can’t find anything wrong. What should happen next? If I am a known hypochondriac, maybe he should disregard my internal evidence (pain) in favour of his external evidence (tests), but otherwise, I would regard him as a bad doctor if he did that. The pain is real, and his tests can’t negate that.

    So I understand the situation in that light – if the internal evidence is strong enough, it trumps the external. It will vary for different people. I would probably go with the external for my internal evidence is weak, but my wife would probably go with the internal for it is stronger for her.

    • I guess this is another area where we must agree to disagree. While I definitely think there is more to our beliefs than just facts, I would never want subjective aspects (such as my feelings) to trump the objective evidence.

  14. Tom Horwat said: “For me, what William Lane Craig calls “evidence” I am highly skeptical of. For instance, regarding the resurrection of Jesus, he refers to this incident as a “fact”. I’m sorry, but to me, it’s pure speculation and heresay.”

    If you study the historical scholars, not just christians but atheists, agnostics, Jews, etc, you’ll find that the majority of them accept the following as historical facts:

    1. Jesus really existed and was executed by crucifixion.
    2. His tomb was later found empty.
    3. His followers reported seeing him alive.
    4. These beliefs (2 & 3) arose from the earliest days of christianity and were not legends that grew up decades later.
    5. Belief in the resurrection was a major motivation in the subsequent expansion of christianity.

    Now those statements are claimed to be historical facts, in the main supported by scholars like EP Sanders, Michael Grant & Bart Ehrman for example. So unless you contest those facts against the experts, what you are contesting is whether they are sufficient evidence to believe it actually occurred.

    Craig thinks it is sufficient evidence, has argued very persuasively for that conclusion and he and others (e.g. Gary Habermas) have won many arguments against strong sceptics on that matter. (I don’t know what you thought of the Craig-Ehrman debate, but I thought it was pretty even.)

    In the end, it comes down to presuppositions. If you are an atheist/naturalist, virtually no evidence will convince you – so in fact it isn’t a matter of evidence, but of worldview. But if you believe in God, it becomes a more open question, and if you also believe Jesus was divine, then it is easy to believe.

    • I’ll be going into more depth about The Age of Reason (by Thomas Paine) in future posts, but something he says in there jumped to mind as I was reading this. In my words, he essentially says that something is only a revelation to the first person it is revealed to. Once that person has to relay it to someone else, they must take the first person’s word for it. It’s not revelation to them personally.

      I”ll refer to the quote I have in this post:

      “A thing which everybody is required to believe, requires that the proof and evidence of it should be equal to all, and universal.” (Chapter III)

      So as you’re telling me about the validity of the historical evidence, I’m thinking for something that is supposed to be of eternal importance, why am I expected to take someone’s word for it? And especially the word of people who lived thousands of years ago and were particularly prone to believing all sorts of interesting things?

  15. I see you like “Age of Reason”. There are several “gottchas” in Age of Reason that tell me this is just one man’s view. My conclusion was “not very well researched.” Maybe it was just a summation of where Mr. Paine was at the time. I don’t view it as credible for today. So much more data from research is available today compared to when Paine was alive.

    • Yes – I’m only part way through, but he does sometimes mention that he didn’t even have a Bible with him when he wrote it (not sure if he never did or just sometimes didn’t). However, I think people back then knew their Bibles very well since it was part of the fabric of their society (and Paine was no exception). He is often striking at the basic storyline of Christianity, not arguing minute details, so I don’t know that his lack of references really weakens his arguments. Do you have specific examples of points he made that were incorrect due to his not having a Bible at hand? I’d be open to discussing those (although it might be better to do that over on my post about reading The Age of Reason:

      https://leftchristianity.com/2012/03/29/reading-the-age-of-reason/

  16. This whole issue of the Holy Spirit is quite ironic. The Holy Spirit is supposed to guide us and teach us. Yet the bible has God saying that his people are destroyed because of lack of knowledge. And if the Holy Spirit is really guiding people, why are there so many different beliefs about what the bible says? That to me is the nail in the coffin to this whole Holy Spirit guidance issue. It’s easy to see how interpretations can contradict. Yet the Holy Spirit is given a free pass on how inept it is at unifying Christian knowledge/beliefs.

  17. “if the Holy Spirit is really guiding people, why are there so many different beliefs about what the bible says?”

    Do you not think that people’s freedom to choose explains it?

    • I don’t understand how choice has anything to do with what the Holy Spirit is supposed to do. Does a kid go into a classroom and choose whether or not his teacher is wrong? If God is the perfect teacher, then everyone should understand his message. What you see in Christianity is a disorganized mess of thought because the message isn’t clear (find any site that shows all the biblical contradictions and this becomes no mystery), and a perfect God is not helping his children decipher the message.

  18. But at what point am I choosing something, and at what point is the Holy Spirit guiding me? I think that’s the whole issue. I think it’s probably very difficult to tell. After all, not only do the various sects of Christianity all claim to be led by the HS in some regard, other religions also have experiences and feelings that they describe as divine guidance. I think the most likely explanation is that it’s all in our heads, but I recognize that this is probably not something we can actually prove one way or the other.

    • Agreed, but I think the fact that there is so much division among Christianity and that there are so many other religions pushes it to the direction of not being true, if not downright proving it. This about this: Why is a person’s religion in all likelihood based on where you were born? Why are your religious beliefs based on what your parents believe? Better yet, when people join a congregation, why do they take on the views of that church? Is that the Holy Spirit? Sounds a lot like you’re thoughts are based on what everyone is telling you and not God’s spirit guiding people to truth. If a Catholic and Protestant both hear the Holy Spirit, how can that be when they have such contradicting views?
      I have strong feelings about this because I understand the implication that this can have on someone’s life. Imagine that someone thinks that when they have random thoughts, that’s the Holy Spirit. We all have good thoughts and bad thoughts. What if that thought says to sacrifice your son on an alter? Hopefully you can see where I’m going with this. You better have a clear understanding of what you believe is the Holy Spirit and what isn’t before you go acting on all of your thoughts. I think for most Christians when their thoughts line up with their religious beliefs, they believe it’s the Holy Spirit. When they don’t, it’s either a carnal thought or the Devil. If the Christian has to figure out if it’s the Holy Spirit or not, then it’s obvious to me it wasn’t the Holy Spirit in the first place.

      • Well said.

        I think relying on something as subjective as the Holy Spirit runs completely counter to what the Bible claims is God’s major goal: that all should come to repentance and none should perish. If that’s really his goal, why talk to people in a way that they might think is simply their own thoughts, or in a way that results in different people getting different messages? I think if God wanted to talk to me, I’d have no doubt that it was happening, and I imagine he could make sure the message was clear.

      • Thanks Nate. When I was a Christian, that Bible passage always bothered me. How could God say that he wants none to perish and all to come to repentance, yet he’s failed to convince the majority of humanity that he is in fact God? Then Jesus says narrow is the way? Did he concede defeat in his own book?
        And about the clear message, you’re spot on. Speaking of a clear message, why would he give us a confusing book with more killing than any movie Hollywood has put out, that gets mistranslated and misinterpreted, and expect everyone to believe it, let alone read it? I think the majority of Christians are still Christians because they haven’t read the Bible cover to cover. If you can make it through the first couple of books without a WTH moment, you need to pay more attention.

  19. “Does a kid go into a classroom and choose whether or not his teacher is wrong?”
    This is the point, Speed, in many cases that is exactly what happens, especially when the topic is something requiring a person’s assent and commitment – such as behaviour at school, drug education or current affairs.

    “If God is the perfect teacher, then everyone should understand his message.”
    Only if we are the perfect students – communication depends as much on the receiver as the giver.

    “the message isn’t clear”
    I think you have made an assumption about the nature of the message, the importance of the message, and God’s purposes. I suggest God could fulfil your requirements by making us perfectly hearing, perfectly obedient robots. But that isn’t what he wants, nor what we want.

    So I suggest your argument that God can’t exist because he doesn’t do things in the way you’d expect is based on an unwarranted assumption. Take away that assumption and the “argument” is nothing more than your personal preference – not a good basis in my view.

    • First off, you missed the point of what I said. I asked if a kid goes into a classroom and somehow he has a choice over whether the teaching is going to come into the classroom and teach the kids the wrong thing. If the Holy Spirit is helping people interpret the Bible, then our choice should have nothing to do with what the Holy Spirit tells us is truth. Yet go to 5 different churches and you’ll get 5 different versions of this “truth.” I’d say that’s a lack of communication from the teacher, not the kids refusing to listen.

      God’s message shouldn’t be rocket science. Are you admitting that it’s difficult to understand? If so, then there’s a problem with the book, and not with people who sincerely try to figure out what it means.

      And you can’t get into a Christian discussion without the famous robot argument… I was a Christian for 30+ years. I was a Catholic for about 20. I went to many different churches. So don’t imply that I missed the point. Every organization I was a part of wanted to know the details. It wasn’t just “Jesus died and rose and now you’re forgiven.” (and even that gets messy between denominations) It was “How do I apply this to my everyday life.” Between churches you run into complete contradictions and everyone calling everyone else a “cult” and whatever other negative labels they could come up with to show that they’re right and everyone else is wrong. If you think God doesn’t want robots, then I’d like to know what you think heaven is like. If God can’t stand sin in his presence, then he must turn us into robots in heaven because there’s no way when we die we all of a sudden stop sinning because after all, free will is to blame and we’re supposed to still have it right?

      I wouldn’t expect a God to be exactly what everyone wants because that’s impossible. However, I’d expect him to give a clear message of who he is and what he expects so his people can work together instead of against each other. And I wouldn’t expect the way He and His people behaved to come across as reprehensible. Would you want your kids reading in the Old Testament that if there was a non-Christian culture they just slaughtered them? Wait…isn’t that what the Koran says to do, but Christians renounce that? Confusing isn’t it?

  20. “I think relying on something as subjective as the Holy Spirit runs completely counter to what the Bible claims is God’s major goal: that all should come to repentance and none should perish.”

    G’day Nate. I think you, like Speed, and like many others I have met, have made a wrong assumption about what is God’s goal. I suggest God’s major goal is set out right at the beginning of the Bible: that he has made human beings “in his image”.

    Have you ever considered what that means? I think it means us being personal, rational, ethical, emotional, loving, autonomous (choosing), active beings, like he is, but to a much lesser degree. This is a glorious gift beyond imagining. Once you see that, the rest becomes clearer.

    Just like a parent or teacher stepping back and allowing her child/pupil to try things out and make mistakes, and learn and mature or not through the process, so I believe does God. This takes precedence over all other goals.

    If God didn’t keep his power and presence “veiled”, we would be overwhelmed, we would not be “in his image” but forced by his power and we’d be robots. So even his wish that all be saved is subservient to the freedom he gives us.

    And so life, the Bible, the church, the work of the Holy Spirit, etc, are all low key, unintrusive (mostly), respecting our freedom. One person said that God’s actions are like a lover wooing a girl tenderly, not a university lecturer giving out facts, and no lover forces his beloved.

    So by all means believe that the evidence points to none of this being true (though I believe you are sadly mistaken in that conclusion), but please understand that the objection you are raising here is based on a misunderstanding of God (IMO). And if this is a major reason for your disbelief, then the good news is that it need not be.

    Best wishes.

    • Hi Unklee,

      I like your parent/child, teacher/pupil example — it’s one I’ve used too. But parents don’t let their children learn from mistakes when it comes to things like the kitchen stove or crossing the street. I find the trial and error approach to be extremely dangerous when the consequences are Heaven and Hell.

      Also, I disagree with the robot example. When I was growing up, I knew who my parents were. I saw them every day, so that relationship was continually reinforced. They also gave me many instructions that they expected me to follow — and there were often consequences when I chose to disobey them. But I still had the choice. Knowing who they were and what they wanted did not make me a robot. In fact, having a solid knowledge of them and their wishes ensured that I was making informed decisions about whether or not to follow their instructions. Similarly, if God had an intimate relationship with all of us, where we talked every day, then we would have no question about his existence or what he wanted from us. But we would still decide whether or not to obey him.

      Unfortunately, as it is now, the majority of people either don’t believe in a god, or they worship the “wrong one,” or they worship the “right one” in the wrong way. This causes the problem of having well meaning people who are at odds with God simply because they don’t understand who he is or what he wants. That means they’re not making a fully informed decision; therefore, God’s goal of giving us a choice still fails.

      Finally, our understanding of God might be different from yours, but it doesn’t mean we’re wrong. Just like you aren’t necessarily wrong just because you disagree with us. But again, God could easily clear up all this misunderstanding if he wanted to. I think the fact that he doesn’t speaks volumes.

  21. Speed said: “If you can make it through the first couple of books without a WTH moment, you need to pay more attention.”

    I’m with you here. The Bible shouldn’t be read from the beginning. Or better still, the New Testament should be placed before the Old, so people start there. The NT is the main game for christians, and the OT is like background.

    If George Lucas was publishing the Bible, he’d get it right! : )

    • So the perfect God who apparently preserved his book perfectly, put it in the wrong order? Didn’t you just accuse me of trying to make things the way I want it? Does God expect a person who picks up this book to immediately know that he/she should focus on the New Testament because the OT is just background noise?
      I suggest you give a little more importance to the OT, because isn’t that where the Ten Commandments comes from? Isn’t that where God describes how the world was created? Didn’t Jesus say that all of the law must be upheld?
      You’ve proved you’re a cherry-picker. We should only pay attention to what other people tell us should be important, and ignore all the other stuff that makes Christianity look bad. You can never find truth with that mindset. You “know” Jesus is real, so you have to mold everything around you to fit into that viewpoint. It’s a tough position to be in because at some point, you run out of answers and the questions keep piling up.

  22. Pingback: I Stand Corrected « Left Christianity

  23. Speed said: “God’s message shouldn’t be rocket science. Are you admitting that it’s difficult to understand?”

    Again I think you’re making an assumption that God’s primary purpose is to communicate facts. But the Bible says that knowledge on its own is not very helpful. I would say most christians agree that God’s primary purpose is relationship, and knowledge is a means to that end. So it doesn’t matter all that much if I am a supralapsarian and you are a premilleniallist – who really cares? (Yes a few people do, but it seems clear that God doesn’t.)

    I’m not suggesting there are no problems with the christian view. I am simply saying that your argument here, while raising some interesting issues, doesn’t amount to a reason to disbelieve because it is based on unimportant matters or misunderstandings and assumptions I don’t think many christians share.

    “If God can’t stand sin in his presence, then he must turn us into robots in heaven because there’s no way when we die we all of a sudden stop sinning because after all, free will is to blame and we’re supposed to still have it right?”

    This is an interesting pint, and one I’ve pondered myself. My conclusion is that the difference won’t be free will, but God’s presence. Like I said, if God was present, we’d be unable to sin (i.e. we’d have choice, but only of good things).

    ” Confusing isn’t it?”

    Yes, I agree it sometimes is. But having things difficult to understand seems to be a fact in this world. I can’t see how that makes christianity less believable. In the end, either you believe the evidence shows God exists, Jesus was who he said he was, and it is good to follow him, or you don’t. All these other things just seem to me to be diversions from that basic question.

    Let me ask you a question. When you were a christian, did you have reasons to believe? If so, what changed those reasons? If not, isn’t that the main reason why you stopped believing?

  24. Nate said: “I find the trial and error approach to be extremely dangerous when the consequences are Heaven and Hell.”

    Yes, if you follow US-style fundamentalism literally, this would be a problem. But I think few follow that 100% deep down, no matter what they say, and historically it is a minority view.

    Most christians believe God judges our ‘hearts’, very many believe (and the Bible hints) that while all must be saved by Jesus, they don’t necessarily need to be aware of this (this position is called inclusivism, and many christians including CS Lewis held it), and a growing number believe Jesus’ teaching on hell was an end to life, not everlasting torture.

    Add those three things together and you get the result that everyone gets what they choose. Choose God, according to whatever light you have, and you will live. Choose self and reject according to the light you have, and you get what you chose (and what many atheists say is all they want), just this life and no more. It’s still a big question (which is why I’m urging Speed to see that his reasons are not sufficient to pass up such an offer), but it’s not quite the same as how you presented it.

    I see it this way. We are comparing two worldviews. We have evidence and questions on both sides. Some arguments are important because they address real issues of consistency and inconsistency; others are not important because they merely address things we find personally hard to understand. I think the arguments from the cause and design of the universe, people’s experience of God, the historical evidence for Jesus and the existence of pain and suffering in the world all address real issues, but I think our ideas about what God maybe ought to do and what he’s aiming at doing tell us more about ourselves than about God.

    “Similarly, if God had an intimate relationship with all of us, where we talked every day, then we would have no question about his existence or what he wanted from us. But we would still decide whether or not to obey him.”

    I do talk to God every day. I don’t ‘hear’ him as much as others do, but it still happens. He does what you say, just in a veiled way.

    “God’s goal of giving us a choice still fails”

    No it doesn’t. We choose by how we live our lives. Jesus said “by their fruit you will know them.”

    “I think the fact that he doesn’t speaks volumes.”

    Yes it does, we just disagree what he is saying. I suggest it is quite reasonable to conclude that God respects the freedom he has given us.

    • Hi Unklee,

      I understand what you’re saying, but I think it’s just an effort to explain why God isn’t more visible. If he did speak to us in a real relationship where no one doubted his existence or what he said, we would still have the ability to listen to him or not. Even the Bible says that Satan rebelled — yet he knew exactly who God was. Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and Peter all chose to disobey at different times, yet according to your theory, that should have been impossible.

      In other words, there’s no real reason why God shouldn’t let himself be known. His absence is not necessary for us to have choice.

      As a final point, I do think most people are looking for him. The reason they end up in so many different places is that he’s the world champ at hide and seek. In the end, he will have tricked many of us into missing him — hopefully he’ll feel very justified when he sends us to Hell or annihilates us.

      One last thing. As I read back over what I’m about to post, I’m afraid it may sound rude or exasperated. I apologize if it does. I really don’t feel that way toward you. This is just the clearest way I could think of to say what I think about this subject. I actually like you quite a lot. You’re always respectful of others, and that’s the most important thing to me. I don’t find your brand of Christianity off-putting either, even though we don’t agree. That caveat may not be necessary, but I wanted to add it just in case.

      Thanks

      • Nate

        It’s been a busy few days and I’m just now finding the time to sit down and read through this discussion. However, every time I’ve started formulating my response to a comment, I see that you’ve already said what I would have said.

        I particularly liked this:

        “As a final point, I do think most people are looking for him. The reason they end up in so many different places is that he’s the world champ at hide and seek. In the end, he will have tricked many of us into missing him — hopefully he’ll feel very justified when he sends us to Hell or annihilates us.”

        I think you hit the nail on the head in a big way with that comment. I think it’s actually one of the reasons that I was able to eventually let the fear of hell go. If there is a god, he most certainly has played hide and seek, and I can’t see that he would punish people for not figuring out things that he has chosen to keep hidden from them.

      • Thanks Brenda!

        I agree — that was a big thing for me too. Why would God make things so difficult? As I began to struggle with my faith, I kept wondering why the more I learned about God/Christianity, the less I seemed to understand. Why would God set up a system in which learning more about him only led to more uncertainty?

        The quote from Marcus Aurelius that you’ve referenced before also comforted me a great deal. I finally came to the realization that if I’m really trying my best, then I shouldn’t have to worry about a cosmic judge.

        Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.

  25. Speed, I think we are talking at cross purposes. You seem to have an understanding of christianity that is way different to mine. Your reasons for rejecting that version of christianity don’t seem to apply to what I believe. Let’s see if we can avoid argument for a moment and at least reach some mutual understanding.

    “So the perfect God who apparently preserved his book perfectly, put it in the wrong order?”

    I presume you know that the Bible isn’t one book, but scores of separate documents written by scores of people over maybe a thousand years? The christian Bible was assembled by people a few hundred years after the last document was written, and the order as somewhat arbitrary. Very few christians believe God “preserved his book perfectly”, and I don’t think any believe the order is divinely inspired.

    “Does God expect a person who picks up this book to immediately know that he/she should focus on the New Testament because the OT is just background noise?”

    I have no idea what God expects, but I can say that almost all christians believe anyone starting to read the Bible should start with one of the gospels.

    “isn’t that where the Ten Commandments comes from?”

    The 10 Commandments were given to the Jews as part of the old covenant (the agreement between God and the Jews). Christians live in the new covenant (as seen by Jesus’ words at the last supper, which I presume as a former Catholic you are familiar with). The NT teaches that the old covenant is replaced by the new, so the 10 C’s no longer apply – but unfortunately many christians haven’t fully cottoned onto this yet.

    “You’ve proved you’re a cherry-picker. “

    It is always possible to make emotive statements, when a factual one would be more accurate. LIke everyone else, I base my beliefs on what I regard as true and important, and I think less about unimportant issues. I have explained that the OT is not binding on christians in the new covenant, though it is still important. That isn’t cherry picking, it is clear NT teaching.

    ?You “know” Jesus is real, so you have to mold everything around you to fit into that viewpoint.”

    Take away a few words and you are right. I have considered all the important facts and decided that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” as he said. So I understand everything in the light of that truth. You do the same according to your conclusions. No-one knows everything or understands everything, so we always have questions and difficulties. But we go with what truth we can find and learn to accept we don’t know everything.

    One more thing. Focusing on these rather minor matters which we can’t necessarily understand has two unfortunate results. It diverts attention from the important issues that should decide our beliefs, and it weakens your arguments (IMO).

    So I hope that at least gives you a better understanding of where I’m at, and helps you see that your understanding of christianity is not the only one, or even the most common or plausible one.

  26. Unklee,
    I’ll give you some of my history because it seems obvious you’re intent on saying that people who leave Christianity seem to do so without a good reason or without good arguments. That’s a complete oversimplification and just an excuse to defend your Christianity by saying we left because our views aren’t right, and you’re still a Christian because your views are right.

    I was born into a Catholic family. When I was around 18-20, I felt like I was a Christian who lived 2 lives, which I find most Catholics do. We had our “church” life and then our “world” life and the 2 were very far apart. I decided I needed to follow Jesus more closely, so I started listening to fundamentalist Christian programs on the radio and decided to give my life to Christ. I went to a small church and even attended Bible study courses, though I had no intention of becoming a preacher.
    I remember one time when our pastor said that God was telling him someone there didn’t have the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I raised my hand. They got together and prayed with me and what happened? Nothing. Looking back, I realize it’s because I had no intention of acting in front of them and I told myself if something was going to happen, it was going to be from God and not me. After that day, I had doubts about what was going on. I questioned whether most of this fundamentalist stuff was just a show.
    My wife and I had times where things got tough in our lives…we prayed and prayed. We got nothing. Things got worse. She lost a lot of her faith at that time, and I really started questioning thing. Then, 2 years in a row, I almost died, both times in July. Both times I knew I was getting extremely sick, and I prayed and I prayed. I didn’t hear anything from God, nor was I healed. Had I not been admitted to the hospital, I would have died both times. At this point, I wondered why I had been told that God created us to have a relationship with us yet he was nowhere to be found. My real father would have saved my life, but from my heavenly father, I didn’t hear a peep.
    During my second episode, the notion of hell started bothering me to the point of insanity. My grandfather was dying and he was a Catholic and I couldn’t bear the thought of him being tortured for all eternity. I started researching if hell was real and found a lot of evidence that the KJV was mistranslated (though it seemed intentionally) to make words that meant grave and places that were symbolic, to the word hell. I then asked why God wouldn’t have shown me this and let me be tormented with these thoughts of humans being burned alive and how I was so scared that was happening to my family members who had passed away. I then asked why God would allow his perfect book to be mistranslated. And on that note, why do we even have multiple translations? He preserved his word but failed to keep translations from muddying the waters?
    I also decided to read the old testament because I’ll be honest, I had never sat down and read the Bible cover to cover. I read books here and there, but I’m sure there was some stuff I missed. As I started to read, I started to see how barbaric the Jews were. I asked myself if they were still alive, what we would think of them and their “God.” I saw how casually the Bible described entire cities, INCLUDING CHILDREN, being slain by the sword. How a city was destroyed, and the leader got mad because they spared the women, and told them to keep the virgins alive and kill the rest! I kept reading and thinking “What in the world have I been supporting all of these years?” At that point I couldn’t defend it anymore. I started critical research of the bible and was stunned at what I found. I’m not going to state what I found here, but as the blinders were stripped away, everything became clear. Every argument Christians made to answer my questions were nothing but excuses. I couldn’t make excuses for God anymore, and you know what? I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO.
    There was no way I could defend what was done in the Old Testament. It was sick, twisted, and evil. I used to think the New Testament was all that mattered, but then I realized that new covenant or not, THOSE PEOPLE WERE STILL BUTCHERED. What if you had lived back then? Would you feel it was fair that you go slaughtered because you weren’t fortunate enough to live under the New Testament when God was all of a sudden all love and peace?

    So I’d appreciate if you stop insinuating that we didn’t understand God and that’s why we left Christianity. And I certainly think it’s petty on your part to refer to my issues with Christianity as “minor” when you have no idea what I’ve been through. Maybe you haven’t been through enough.

    • Speed

      Just wanted to say hi and thank you for joining in the discussions here. Thank you for sharing some of your story. I’m wondering if you’d be interested in having me share it in its own post. You could add to it and elaborte more if you like or pretty much leave it as is. Or you could just tell me no way 🙂 I could email you privately if you want to discuss it with me that way.

      • Brenda,
        I actually really appreciate you offering to put my story in a post. I kept this post short (even though it was a long post) so there’s a lot more details that I can add. If you want to send me an email on how to send you my story, I can type up a better version and send it to you.

  27. Nate:

    “I’m afraid it may sound rude or exasperated. I apologize if it does.”

    Thanks for the apology, but it wasn’t necessary. I didn’t feel you said anything offensive. Like you said, we disagree, and we want to explain why we disagree. There is bound to be a small amount of friction in such situations, and the important thing is to show as much grace to others as I’d like them to show to me.Thanks also for the compliment and the courtesy you have shown to me.

    “In other words, there’s no real reason why God shouldn’t let himself be known. His absence is not necessary for us to have choice.”

    Here is one place we clearly disagree, and in two ways. (1) You think God ought to make himself much more obvious, whereas I think you misunderstand how overwhelming that would be. (2) You think your assessment of what God ought to do is enough to settle the matter whereas I think the most it could do is cause us to wonder.

    It seems to me that there is a world of difference between this subjective feeling of what God ought to do than the much more substantial arguments of the problem of evil or the creation and design of the universe, which are based not just on our subjective assessment, but objective facts about the world.

    “I do think most people are looking for him.”

    I seriously question this.

    I once had a long (about 18 months) email discussion with a friend who was an atheist and determinist, and at one point I suggested he didn’t want christianity to be true. He replied that he started to write back disagreeing, then he stopped and thought, and realised he really didn’t want a God interfering with his settled and aesthetically pleasing view that the universe had no origin or plan but itself.

    Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagle wrote: “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. …. I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

    Do you really think that Christopher Hitchens wanted to believe? That Richard Dawkins wants to believe?

    I think it is more likely that most unbelievers are avoiding God, but a few are looking. There is no way either of us can prove our viewpopint of course, but that is what I think.

    Best wishes.

    • Sorry it took me a little while to reply.

      unklee, you said this:

      Here is one place we clearly disagree, and in two ways. (1) You think God ought to make himself much more obvious, whereas I think you misunderstand how overwhelming that would be. (2) You think your assessment of what God ought to do is enough to settle the matter whereas I think the most it could do is cause us to wonder.

      I agree that this seems to be one of our biggest differences. However, I don’t think my position is very different from what we see in the Bible. When Moses had his experience with the burning bush, it didn’t seem to override his free will. The same could be said of Gideon, Noah, Jonah, and Paul. They received much more evidence and direct contact than anyone today, yet they still seemed to have the ability to respond as they saw fit. If it did override their free will, then that creates major problems for the notion that God is impartial.

      If I understand you correctly, you’ve said that if we had any more evidence of God than what we have right now, we would be compelled to serve him, and it would no longer be a free choice. But the Bible has examples where God did just that with certain individuals. Do you believe that hampered their ability to exercise free will? And if it didn’t, then we’re still left with the situation where God could give more evidence today, which would undoubtedly convince more people, yet he chooses not to do that. Do you have any thoughts as to why he would make it more difficult for us?

      Thanks

  28. Speed said: “I’ll give you some of my history because it seems obvious you’re intent on saying that people who leave Christianity seem to do so without a good reason or without good arguments. “

    Speed, it seems I have offended you, and I’m truly sorry. But I think your reason for taking offence is a misunderstanding.

    As far as I am aware, our discussion has been concerned with just one main argument – that God should make himself more obvious. You disagreed with my views on that topic and I disagreed with yours. Can you recall me making a more general comment about your overall beliefs other than in response to your statements?

    (For the record, I think there are some good reasons for disbelieving in christianity, but (1) I don’t think the matter we are discussing is one of them, and (2) I think there are better and stronger reasons for believing.)

    But I appreciate your sharing of your story, because it gives me more understanding and broadens the discussion. At the risk of offending you some more, I’ll make a few brief comments:

    “we prayed and prayed. We got nothing …. I prayed and I prayed. I didn’t hear anything from God, nor was I healed”

    I think you were presented with a false christianity. A major part of christianity is trusting God, even if he doesn’t do what we expect him to do, because we trust Jesus and we welcome his death for our sakes. I can understand you being disappointed. I have lost 2 brothers, both christians, before their time due to cancer, and one of them I prayed for every day for over a year for healing. But neither they nor I signed on to following Jesus in the expectation that God would do everything we wanted, but to serve him. So they, and I, accepted their deaths without it harming our faith.

    “the notion of hell started bothering me to the point of insanity …. and found a lot of evidence that the KJV was mistranslated (though it seemed intentionally) to make words that meant grave and places that were symbolic, to the word hell.”

    I agree here. Those who don’t want God get what they ask for, which is the end of life, not everlasting torment. I am truly sorry you were tormented by this.

    “I started to see how barbaric the Jews were. I asked myself if they were still alive, what we would think of them and their “God.””

    And I agree here also. I think some of the OT passages are very difficult. I don’t think I could ever believe in Judaism. But I am a christian, and I believe Jesus brought the true revelation from God (“he who has seen me has seen the Father”). Anything that isn’t in accordance with that revelation mustn’t be true. So I have to conclude that those OT passages do not show us what God is like. I can only speculate about them, but I think (1) historians tell us the killings never occurred on the scale we read, and (2) either the people misunderstood God or we misunderstand them.

    But this is a real difficulty, I agree, one of the ones I referred to earlier, and much more important (IMO) than the one we have been discussing.

    “I’d appreciate if you stop insinuating that we didn’t understand God and that’s why we left Christianity.”

    As I explained before, I don’t think I made such a general statement, and I apologise if I did. I am only reacting to what you have explained, and on those matters, I do feel your understanding of christianity is not anything like mine, and I feel you have been taught some mistaken ideas. Are you interested in trying to understand christianity in a different light?

    Best wishes, and thanks for your honest response.

  29. Pingback: Do I want there to be no god? « Left Christianity

  30. G’day Speed,

    “unklee, it speaks volumes that your first sentence used the word “believe” followed by “truth.” If you believe you have the truth, then you’re admitting you might be wrong.”

    I think we need to check our definitions. Are you equating belief with faith? Because I’m not. I’m using belief in the way used by philosophers: belief is “whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true” (a href=”http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/belief/:>Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. A belief is what we think is true, whether it is well based (like I am getting older) or quite speculative (perhaps there is life in other galaxies).

    But of course I understand that I might be wrong, and I’m surprised you think otherwise. Don’t you think you could be wrong? Neither of us is infallible. Nevertheless, I believe what I think on these matters is probably true, just as I imagine you do.

    “And take a walk through a St. Jude hospital or any facility where children are battling cancer and tell me that the truth of god is found through daily experiences. Visit a country where children die because they don’t have access to the basics that we have. You seem to be living under the umbrella that YOUR experiences reinforce that truth.”

    I’m sorry, but you continue to misunderstand me. I’m under no illusions how terrible life can be for some people, and it agonises me sometimes to see this. I was just watching a video from World Vision, where Australian CEO Tim Costello was visiting a slum in India and describing his visit to Darfur, and was almost in tears on camera as he talked. There are horrible things in the world.

    But there is also much beauty and heroism and good. it is a real mixture. I have come to the conclusion that our beliefs can easily be the result of where we put our focus. So I think it is true that some people focus only on the good things and the reasons to believe, as you have said. But I wonder whether you have thought that others (perhaps including you) tend to focus on the bad things and the reasons not to believe? And so that’s where you beliefs come from?

    I honestly try to consider the good and the bad, the reasons to believe and the reasons not to believe. And I conclude, after considering both sides, that the reasons to believe are stronger, and the good outweighs the bad (as surveys actually show). I wonder whether you have balance in your assessment?

    Best wishes.

  31. G’day Nate:

    “you’ve said that if we had any more evidence of God than what we have right now, we would be compelled to serve him, and it would no longer be a free choice.”
    I think I’ve said “if God made himself too obvious”, not “if we had any more evidence of God”. Slight but important difference.

    “Do you have any thoughts as to why he would make it more difficult for us?”
    I think difficult is the wrong word. I think it would be more difficult to remain human if he was too overwhelming.

    The Bible shows progression in its revelation. One part of that progression is from more mythical to more historical; another part is from more intervention to less – and the two may perhaps be related. So I have no firm opinion on the OT revelations.

    But Jesus made some statements on this topic. He said on a couple of occasions:

    “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.” Luke 11:29-30.

    “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Luke 16:31.

    “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Mark 4:9

    “to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” Mark 4:11-12. (Most of this is a quote from the OT, and the meaning is debatable, but I take it to be saying that parables allow those who want to disbelieve to be free to do so.)

    Also in the story of his temptations, Jesus clearly eschewed doing something spectacular to impress people.

    So I think it is clear that Jesus said there was enough information for those who wished to believe, but not so much as to compel those who didn’t. This seems to me to be a given in christianity, and whether I fully understand it or agree with it, I have to accept it as part of the package. Since I think the evidence for God and for Jesus is so good, and impossible for me to get around, I accept this part of the package also. To do anything else would be foolish.

    Thanks for the question.

    • That’s cool. I get what you’re saying. Of course, since I don’t think the evidence for Jesus or the Christian god is enough for me to believe, then I also don’t believe the Bible’s statements that what it’s given us should be enough. In fact, I kind of see those places where Jesus refuses to do miracles, or where Matthew says the guards at his tomb were told to spread a lie as revisionist history. To me, they seem to be places where the author is trying to explain people’s skepticism. You know, blame it on their hardened hearts instead of the lack of evidence.

      But that’s probably just an area we’ll have to disagree on, at least for now. Since we both seem to be “truth-seekers,” maybe we’ll one day end up on the same side of this debate.

      Thanks!

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